Since the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, guests have been able to enjoy the history of America in The Hall of Presidents. The attraction celebrates where our country has been and where it continues to go. We wanted to take a moment to celebrate Presidents’ Day with a walk down memory lane. How has the attraction changed in the almost 50 years it has existed?
In the opening version of the film, the show opened with a reenactment of the Philidelphia Convention. George Washington (Paul Frees) and Benjamin Franklin (Lawrence Dobkin, who also narrated the original 1971 show) are heard making speeches to the Convention. The promise is made to the convention and the American people that this government will be different. The film covers the formative years of the film and the threats that came to domestic tranquility.
The film then shifts to Lincoln’s time in office. Secession was a true threat and the house was divided. This portion of the show reflected what we see in Disneyland at “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.” The script and visuals were nearly identical, with added painting to fill Walt Disney World’s screens.
The film then turns to the future. If the country wants to survive, the leaders must be committed to upholding the Constitution. Then, the screens lift, revealing all (then) 36 presidents standing on stage. The show then chronologically calls off the presidents, ending with Richard Nixon in 1971.
Each one responds to their name with a nod, wave, or other sign of acknowledgment. During the presentation, the Presidents fidget, talk to each other, and look around. Abraham Lincoln then stands and takes center stage. His speech is remarkably similar to the speech he gave in “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln”. After his speech, the show concludes with a rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” (the same rendition used in “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln”). Most notably in this version, the current president holding office doesn’t give a speech or reciting the Presidential Oath of Office, as we see in later versions.
The show closed in September 1993 to undergo refurbishment and reopened in October 1993. In just a month, the show had been entirely changed, with some additions even living on until early 2017. Eric Foner, a history professor at Columbia University persuaded various Disney executives, most notably then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner, that a new adaptation of the show was needed. The new show focused more on slavery and other ethical and civil related issues in the United States of America. Clinton became the first president to record his voice for the attraction, something that has now become a tradition. George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald J. Trump subsequently followed this process.
One of the biggest changes came the voice of the narrator. In this version, Maya Angelou narrated the revised script and gave the presidential roll call. Foner is responsible for writing the speech which President Clinton himself recorded at the White House. Followed by the current U.S. President’s speech, Abraham Lincoln would give the completely revised speech written by Foner.
The 2001 version of the show remained relatively similar to the 1993 version. Actor J.D Hall replaced Maya Angelou as the narrator and the Clinton animatronic moved to make way for George W. Bush.
Before the 2009 updates to the show, the Hall of Presidents was closed between October 2008, and July 2009, to undergo an extensive renovation. The renovation included a major upgrade to the audio and visuals to the attraction. When Obama recorded his speech for the updated show in March 2009, he also recorded himself once again reciting the oath of office of the President of the United States. In the revised show, Morgan Freeman replaced Hall as narrator, and George Washington was added as a third speaking president. The clip of the Saturn V launch was replaced with footage showing the first launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia. This footage had been recycled from the original version of Universe of Energy at Epcot.
On January 17, 2017, the Hall of Presidents closed for another lengthy refurbishment. Though there were rumors that the new animatronic of Donald J. Trump would not be added, Disney denied these rumors in July 2017 and stated that the attraction would reopen late 2017. On December 19, 2017, it reopened and featured the new figure. After the roll call of all the past presidents, animatronic Washington gives a short speech, followed by Trump standing and reciting the Presidential Oath Of Office.
Though the attraction has been through many versions, we will always appreciate the message of unity and the reminder of our humble beginnings. This Presidents’ Day, we invite you to watch the current version that we have posted on Youtube.